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Brooklyn businesses need cash grants, rent relief, says Brooklyn Chamber president

August 3, 2020 Raanan Geberer
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What the majority of Brooklyn small businesses need today are not necessarily loans, but rent relief, personal protective equipment, and, most importantly, cash grants, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers says.

A recent survey of 233 small businesses by the Chamber showed that 53 percent reported they would have to struggle to stay open during the next three months. Moreover, while 74 percent said rent relief was very important, 61 percent said their landlords were not offering rent relief.

While Peers said the Chamber is still compiling data on how many Brooklyn businesses have been forced to close their doors since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, a restaurant website, New York Eater, recently detailed 28 restaurants that have gone out of business. The number is probably higher than that, since New York Eater did not list any restaurants in the southern half of the borough.

“We’re seeing rent as an almost universal challenge,” said Peers. “Whether it is Coney Island boardwalk businesses suffocating from a closed amusement park or Brooklyn Heights businesses whose customers have fled the city, it’s clear that rent relief is urgently needed.”

Peers, speaking to the Brooklyn Eagle, spoke about the type of businesses that are in most distress or have gone under. Among them are independent fitness centers and yoga studios (as opposed to those operated by chains), entertainment venues such as theaters, and seasonal businesses.

“Some temporary stores that sold prom dresses and communion dresses shut down,” he said, because events such as proms simply haven’t been held this year.

Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Brooklyn Eagle File

One of the seasonal businesses that Peers named is Brooklyn Beach Shop in Coney Island, owned by Maya Haddad Miller. “As a seasonal business, we’ve been effectively frozen since September 2019 and despite reopening, tourism is absent and general sales have sunk 80 percent. Without rent relief it’s anybody’s guess who will survive this summer,” Miller said.

As far as restaurants are concerned, Peers said, “It often depends how long they’ve offered takeout and delivery. If they’ve offered it since the beginning of the virus scare, they’re in a better position to survive” because they’ve had time to adjust and perfect their service.

However, while outdoor dining is a boon to those restaurants that have it, is not an “equal opportunity employer.” If a restaurant is in front of a bus stop or has a very small storefront, it may not be able to install outdoor chairs and tables, Peers said.

Margaret Barnow is founder and CEO of Brooklyn Granola, which is headquartered in Industry City. Brooklyn Granola is an example of a business that had a rough time at the start of the pandemic but later was able to profit from changes in the food industry. The business makes granola balls, a type of snack food made from granola.

At the beginning of the pandemic, “A lot of retailers were not reopening,” Barnow said. “They were not focusing on granola snacks, but more on the basics. We survived one day at a time.” On top of it all, Barnow herself came down with the virus.

Then, however, many restaurants, which in the past “didn’t see us as a product in a restaurant,” Barnow said, started to offer snack boxes where Brooklyn Granola products fit in. Many of these new customers found the company on Instagram. Some of them began to feature Brooklyn Granola on their own online platforms.

As far as the needs of Brooklyn businesses in general are concerned, “A lot of brick-and-mortar businesses are fighting to get compassion from their landlords, Barnow said. “There’s a big struggle going on about the future of commercial leases.”

In addition, she said, the requirements and procedures for Personal Protection Program (PPP) and EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster) loans, especially in the beginning, were sometimes difficult to understand, and requirements kept changing, making things confusing for businesspeople.

The Coney Island amusement area has been closed for the entire season. Seen here, through a fence, is Wonder Wheel Park, with the famous Wonder Wheel. Photo: Raanan Geberer/Brooklyn Eagle

Carrie White, owner of GUM Studios, which maintains sound stages in Sunset Park and Long Island City, said her business has a unique set of problems. “We rent out large spaces for commercials, fashion shoots and TV,” she said.

The firm was shut down during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. “From October to February, it was one of the worst periods ever for our business. We had 20 people on the payroll and had to eliminate 10.

“We lost jobs to London, Paris, Canada and Slovenia,” she said.

The company reopened at 50 percent capacity when Phase Four was instituted. While GUM Studios received PPP and EIDL loans, they weren’t enough. “We were going to install an air conditioning system, but this [the coronavirus] really screwed things up for us,” White said.

What the company needs now, she says, is a low-cost, low-interest loan for between $1 million and $2 million. While grants are a good idea in general, she said, “no one is going to give a grant for $1 million.”

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